The news of your sudden demise hit me like a ripe mango fruit falling from it’s tree . I almost didn’t believe it to be true as the news came on first April, April fool day. I could have taken it as one of the expensive jokes cracked on the famous jokes day but it was far too expensive and death is not a subject to make fun of.
I dismissed the story with a wave of the hand and told Obioma to find another prank to play because that was not funny and Africans are not known to talk lightly about death, especially by a youth.
A corpse was not to be seen by an under-aged child in those days.
The event of my grandmother’s burial rightly came to my mind.
She had passed on in her little hut after a protracted illness which defiled all medications.
The doctors at the University teaching hospital, Enugu said it was better to take her home and find another cure as she did not respond to all the drugs administered to her.
Moreover, there was no name for the sickness, rather, they relied on speculations and guess work and treated her from a physical observation.
It was even insinuated that the illness could have a spiritual root but since it was unprofessional for such speculations, it was never discussed openly.
Uncle Joe eventually drove her home in the company of my mother and other relatives. Sadly, less than two weeks after arrival, she gave up the ghost. Everyone, especially her children wept endlessly since it was a time they needed her most. The eldest son had just landed a top federal job and just when he wanted to compensate her for her tireless efforts in seeing him through the tertiary institution, she died.
I was eight years old and because children were forbidden to hear discussions about the dead, we were taken to the next village where we remained until after burial. As I remembered the proceedings during a person’s death in the time past, a chilling cold swept me off feet.
I called Obioma again, and asked her to tell me it was not true, that she was only joking. Her voice was firmer this time and she broke into tears. That was when it dawned on me that my beloved uncle is no more. I joined in the outburst until I forgot the telephone line remained on. It fell from my hand and scattered into pieces and I didn’t bother gathering it, I was overwhelmed and wept for a long time until there were no more tears left in my eyes.
Though it is three years since I saw you, I recall vividly our last meeting in the village. It was in December at Onyinye’s traditional wedding and I attended with my husband. We shook hands and you told a funny joke that made us laugh for a couple of minutes.
When I heard that you took a second wife without even consulting with mama Amara, your first wife, I was disappointed as I looked up to your family for inspiration. I thought yours was a happy and complete family despite the harsh economic situation. I had never seen you quarrel with your wife throughout the three months I spent in your house.
You were so kind and generous that you went out of your way to make me happy. You wanted me to live with your family even after the end of my vacation. Little did I know that Nnena, your second wife was unhappy with that decision and it even made her not to serve you dinner nor speak to you for days. Still, you insisted and said that I was a part of your family as your niece.
She eventually gave in when it was obvious you will not change your mind. She secretly antagonized and punished me whenever you left for work but pretended to like me in your presence. I didn’t want to complain of her unkind words and treatment to avoid causing more problems. I swallowed it all like a bitter pill but it made my stay an unhappy one.
Soon after, I began to think of an escape route because I wanted to leave quietly without any of you noticing. I was to only inform you when I arrived at my father’s house so you will not be worried. As a result, the secondary school you promised to enrol me in by the next semester no longer appealed to me, in as much as it was better than the schools in our village.
I was not sure I could learn much with all the bitterness and pain in my heart. Do you remember the evening you took me to the tailor to take my measurement for the school uniform and how I told you I was not comfortable in your house any longer? You were upset and inquired what the problem was but just as I opened my mouth to spill the bean, I remembered the negative effect it could have on your marriage.
You went as far as borrowing money from your employer to pay for my school fees and books. The demand for your job was dwindling and you barely earned sufficient income for our up keep, yet, you wanted to send me to school.
I had to run away from your house one morning when you left for work and she sent me to the stream with a keg bigger than me. I complained that I could not carry it when it was filled with water but she threatened to beat me up and starve me until night if I didn’t comply.
I waited until she entered the bathroom to wash Friday and I picked my newest and best dresses including the fifty Naira note I had saved. I left the keg in the bush so she will think I had gone to the stream until I arrived safely to my home.
Knowing you will be worried at my disappearance, I put a call to your neighbour to give you the information so you don’t think I was kidnapped or in serious trouble.
Out of anger, my father sent me to a boarding school and I didn’t hear from you again.
After many years, I was told you relocated to the village with your wife and children, unable to cope with high cost of living in the big city. I knew it must have been extremely difficult for you to cope in the city since you hadn’t a steady income as well as being the sole bread winner.
Yet, I was more concerned for the innocent young children who deserve better than growing up in the remote village, a place devoid of any kind of social amenity.
Again, you lived most of your active years outside the small town and it will not be easy for you to adapt to such a contrasting life style in your old age.
You did not have any idea of a village life style. You had no land of your own to cultivate nor do you know how to do farm work. I was truly afraid for you at that point.
Unable to find a means of livelihood, you turned to begging, along with the whole family which was even more pathetic.
Kwashiokor and other diseases over took your family as a result of malnutrition and poor life style.
Soon after, you turned blind from complications and now your no more.
As you journey to the great beyond, fare thee well, uncle Boniface.
Greet my grandmother and our ancestors who went before you.